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Absence Management: How to Manage Mental Health Absences

It is reported that depression, which is just one form of mental ill health, is the second leading cause of disability worldwide.  The Office for National Statistics reported that in 2018/19, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 54% of all working days lost due to ill health. We have also seen mental health being affected directly because of Covid-19

Mental health can have a significant impact on an employee’s wellbeing at work, and as a responsible employer, we have obligations to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of those who suffer with it.  This article looks at absence management due to mental health challenges and explores how organisations can take reasonable steps to manage them in a sensitive way.  

What is mental health? 

 The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as: 

 “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity….it is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.  

You may be more familiar with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and bi-polar, but there are many more conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, personality disorders, eating disorders and post-natal depression.  Mental ill health is a complex medical condition as each mental health disorder has its own set of physical and psychological symptoms, and furthermore, even people who suffer from the same condition can experience different symptoms and any commonly shared ones may be suffered to a different extent.  It is vital therefore to not apply a blanket approach when managing mental health absences in the workplace, but to address and support each one in its own context and set of circumstances.   

Mental Health Key Facts 

Key statistics

According to the WHO:  

  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide 
  • Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression 
  • More women are affected by depression than men.

According to the charity Mind: 

  • One in four people will experience mental health problems of some kind each year in England. 
  • One in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem such as depression or anxiety in any given week in England.

According to the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) research report “Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain 2020”, it reports:  

  • 828,000 workers suffered from work related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2019/20 
  • 17.9 million working days were lost due to work related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2019/20 
  • 51% of all work-related ill health cases in 2019/20 were due to depression or anxiety 
  • 55% of working days lost in 2019/20 were due to depression or anxiety 
  • Workload, and in particular tight deadlines, too much work or too much pressure were the prominent causes of work-related stress, depression, or anxiety.

The HSE defines work related stress, depression or anxiety as a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work.  


Unfortunately, mental health conditions can arise from within the workplace.  However, it may be something at work that triggers a mental health episode in someone who is already susceptible to poor mental health and who may have a history of it, or it could in severe and perhaps exceptional cases, be the root cause of a mental health condition.  Poor mental health can be caused by:  

  • Personal life and relationships 
  • Money, work, and housing 
  • Life changes  
  • Health issues 
  • Traumatic life events 
  • Smoking, alcohol, gambling, and drug misuse.

Consequences of mental ill health in the workplace

Regardless of the cause, the consequences of mental health in the workplace can be significant.   

  • Poor health – high blood pressure, heart disease, sleeping disorders, headaches, lower immune system 
  • Absenteeism – increased sickness absence, including periods of intermittent short-term absence and/or long-term ill health 
  • Work performance – reduction in productivity and output, increased errors and accidents, poor decision making, deterioration of planning and control of work 
  • Attitude and behaviour – loss of motivation and commitment, increased working hours, poor timekeeping 
  • Relationships at work – workplace conflict and tension between colleagues, poor relations with clients/customers, increase in disciplinary problems.

Managing Mental Health Absences

Get further information and guidance on managing mental health absences by reading the full article, at,  where we cover the following:


  • Protecting Employee’s Health, Safety, and Wellbeing  
  • General Absence Management  
  • Managing Mental Health Informally 
  • Managing Mental Health Formally  
  • Practical Considerations  
  • Reasonable Adjustments  
  • Further Information from MIND, NHS, and Time to Change.


Further HR Guidance

·         Webinar Recording: you can watch the HR Solutions webinar about “Absence Management – How to Deal With Mental Health Absences”, and download the webinar slides, at

·         HR Knowledge Base: as part of your PRCA membership you can get access to the HR Knowledge Base, which is the go-to resource for thousands of business owners and managers across the UK.  The HR Knowledge Base includes HR documents, templates, legal updates, news and hot topic articles as well as access to free webinars and HR seminars.  To find out more call 0844 324 5840 or visit